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STL@SD: Descalso rips a go-ahead single in the 11th

SAN DIEGO -- As the Cardinals walked off with another victory Tuesday -- 3-2 in 11 innings over the Padres -- a dusting of red pixie dust would've been apt for the National League Central leaders given the number of unassuming heroes.

The rookie infielder who was the last guy to make the team? Yes, Daniel Descalso smacked another clutch hit.

The reliever who plugged a hole in the starting rotation? Yep, Kyle McClellan was on the job and retired 16 of his final 17 Padres hitters at PETCO Park, then saw St. Louis improve to 8-1 in his starts.

And the catcher, Tony Cruz, who was making his Major League debut? He merely knocked out three hits, including a double, and caught a quintet of pitchers who allowed only two hits, none after the fourth inning.

The Cardinals' clubhouse was almost subdued after a victory that locked up the 12th series victory in the last 14, one tie included, but small smiles creased the faces of general manager John Mozeliak and manager Tony La Russa.

"You can't be upset with anything," La Russa said. "Guys are really working."

The Cardinals (30-20) rose to 10 games above .500 for the first time this year with their eighth victory in nine games, and did it with Matt Holliday and his .349 batting average on the bench for the second straight night.

Keep the game close until Descalso bats should be part of the dugout chatter. For the second straight game, the 5-foot-10 left-handed hitter with the paltry batting average drilled a late single to break a tie. The one-hop smash off the glove of second baseman Orlando Hudson -- his third hit of the night -- scored Allen Craig with two outs in the 11th.

For Descalso, who has run with the third-base job job since replacing the injured David Freese, it was his 10th RBI this year to put the Cardinals ahead or even.

"Call him D-Money," La Russa said, coining a nickname for the UC Davis alumnus.

The single off the Padres' Ernesto Frieri (1-2) raised Descalso's batting average to .239. The No. 8 hitter has 17 RBIs in 44 games.

"Have you ever seen a .230s hitter do more damage than him?" said reliever Miguel Batista, who had two scoreless innings and improved to 3-1.

Said La Russa: "He's got a nice stroke and he puts the ball in play all over the field. He's hit different pitches. It's impressive."

McClellan, for his part, is succeeding so often that his conversion from relief to starting is becoming less of a story, but he said his outing Tuesday "was the best I felt in terms of having all four pitches. I was pretty much able to throw any pitch in any count."

La Russa trusted McClellan to call his own game and take heat off Cruz, whose start refreshed catcher Yadier Molina. McClellan said he shook off maybe 10 calls from the rookie, whose defensive skills influenced his promotion Monday to replace injured reserved Gerald Laird. "I thought he did a really good job," McClellan said.

A .232 hitter in Triple-A this season, Cruz stung the Padres for three hits, the first a line-drive single in the second. His opposite-field double into the right-field corner led to a tying run in the seventh, scored by Descalso on Ryan Theriot's groundout.

"I was just trying to make contact and it worked out," Cruz said.

The Cardinals went ahead, 1-0, in the first inning on Lance Berkman's infield single to Padres first baseman Brad Hawpe, whose underhand toss got past pitcher Aaron Harang and allowed Jon Jay to score. No error was charged on the play.

Returning the favor later in the first, Cardinals shortstop Theriot bounced his two-out throw to put Ryan Ludwick on first. Hawpe followed the error, which was Theriot's 10th, with a home run over the 396-foot sign in center field.

Until Hawpe belted his 0-1 changeup for his third home run, McClellan hadn't suffered an unearned run this season, which couldn't be said of seven other Cardinals.

McClellan also was accustomed to better run support than the two runs he received Tuesday. His average of 6.1 runs ranked sixth in the NL.

At any rate, McLellan was still McClellan, 2011 vintage. He worked fast, attacked with his trusty sinker and discouraged Padres hitters from spectating.

"He pitched excellent," La Russa said. "And you've got to give him extra credit because he's pitching to a rookie catcher and a lot was on him to pitch his own game."

More clutch than the team's offense, which outhit the Padres 12-2, was the team defense, which got stellar plays from corner outfielders Allen Craig and Lance Berkman and a nice snag from Descalso. And it was Craig's leadoff walk and fourth stolen base that set up Descalso in the 11th.

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